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Yet another proof that this re-reading thing really pays off and the confirmation that Tigana is still my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel, 10 years after the first read. This time around the experience was further improved by Simon Vance‘s most excellent narration.

(By the way, to all fantasy authors who still write stand-alones: thank you!)

There’s a lot for the grateful reader to sink his teeth on in Tigana, but the central topic is the subjugation of a people. The Peninsula of the Palm was invaded at the same time by two tyrants and sorcerers. The lack of unity among the Palm’s provinces made them easy targets and all were soon conquered and their territory divided among the two invaders.

One province stood out – Tigana. They were the last to fight back and in a decisive battle the son of the most powerful of the two tyrants was killed. He promised and delivered a terrible revenge: first he crushed them in the final battle and then, using his magic, he ensured that only people who were born in the province before the invasion could remember Tigana, its name, culture or history. Buildings were destroyed, music forgotten, books burned. Proud Tigana was now Lower Corte, a poor and minor province in the shadow of its neighbor (and former rival) Corte.

Now, twenty years after the invasions, a group of rebels led by Tigana’s heir have a plan to bring down the tyrants and break the spell. It is the province’s last chance before its name is forever wiped from history.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is one hell of a premise. The use of language during dictatorships and invasions has always fascinated me. Its direct link to identity, culture and sense of belonging makes it an extremely effective tool of subjugation, humiliation and consolidation. As Gavriel Kay explains in the Afterword:

When you want to subjugate a people – to erase their sense of themselves as separate and distinctive – one place to start (and it is sometimes enough) is with their language and names. Names link to history, and we need a sense of our history to define ourselves.

This book is a good argument against the nay-sayers convinced that fantasy books are detached from the real world. It’s impossible not to make parallels with past and present events.Lots of food for thought in

Tigana, but delivered in a way far from preachy or obvious. There’s lots of suspense, adventure, intrigue and romance. The characters, as I’ve come to expect from Gavriel Kay, are masterly built (he paid attention in the “show don’t tell” class), from the tyrants, to the rebel leader to the inn-keeper we meet only in one short scene.

It’s also very rewarding in its complexity: nothing is black-and-white, characters are never just the Heroes or the Villains and are often put in scenarios that seem like psychology case-studies where there’s never a clear win-win decision.

I plan to re-read The Fionavar Tapestry ( and maybe The Sarantine Mosaic) next year.

One of my favorite quotes:

He carried, like baggage, like a cart yoked to his shoulders, like a round stone in his heart, images of his people, their world destroyed, their name obliterated. Truly obliterated: a sound that was drifting, year by year, further away from the shores of the world of men, like some tide withdrawing in the grey hour of a winter dawn. Very like such a tide, but different as well, because tides came back.

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Other thoughts: The Literay Omnivore, The Speculative Scotsmanjust add books, Fantasy Cafe, Only the Best Fantasy & Sci-fi, Ela’s Book Blog, Speculative Book Review, The Readventurer, Necromancy Never Pays, Doing Dewey (yours?)

Life has been happening like crazy on this side of the line. Add holidays and heat and pure, unadulterated laziness and you get a blogging slump. It would also be a reading slump if it wasn’t for YA audiobooks and daily newspapers (a holiday tradition and zen moment).

I need a bit of incentive because my spirit breaks just by looking at the two months backlog. Anyone interested in doing a buddy-read or something? Any easy read-alongs going around? Interesting projects?

Meanwhile, and while inspiration doesn’t strike, I’m doing a meme. They’re not usually my thing, but these are desperate times and maybe thinking about the books I’ve planned for the upcoming months will help.

Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Harris’ The Observations didn’t do much for me, but everyone seems to be raving about Gillespie and I so I’ve decided to give it a try.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

My most anticipated re-read is Tigana, my favorite book by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve decided to tackle it in audio format this time around.

Chroniques de  Jérusalem by Guy Delisle

All books by Guy Delisle are an instant best-seller here in Brussels, European capital of the graphic novel. I’ve never read anything by him but heard lots about this one, a birthday present from my co-workers.

The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief, #3) by Megan Whalen Turner

I’ve recently re-read the first two in the series just so that when I’d pick this one up for the first time everything was fresh. I hear it’s the best one of the series so far?

The Unicorn Hunt (The House of Niccolo, #5) by Dorothy Dunnett

I’m trying to go through The House of Niccolo series reeeeeeally slowly because you only read Dunnet for the first time once. It was a Herculean effort not to lunge for this one right after Scales of Gold and its extraordinary ending. I’ve waited long enough.

Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Whenever I don’t have a formed opinion on a certain topic, I Google Fry’s thoughts on it and always find myself nodding in agreement. Moab is My Washpot is an autobiography covering his first 20 years of life. The Fry Chronicles is already in the TBR waiting its turn.

The Mauritius Command(Aubrey/Maturin Book 4) by Patrick O’Brian

Another series I want to make last, although its 21 volumes-long… The previous book, HMS Surprise, is set to become one of the best of 2012.

Mayombe by Pepetela

For Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge, this will be my first by one of Angola’s most famous writers. Everyone I know who reads in Portuguese seems to have read at least one of his books.

She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff by Annalee Newitz & Charlie Anders (Eds.)

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, on 16 October.

Un día de cólera by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

At the beginning of the year one of my goals was to read more books in their original languages. I’ve done well in Portuguese and French but haven’t picked up anything in Spanish yet. This hour by hour description of 1808’s Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid will put me back on track.

BJD was probably the first novel I’ve ever read in English. I was doing my ERASMUS in Glasgow on such a tight budget that I couldn’t go home for Christmas. So I spent those holidays getting to know the city, visiting free museums and reading the books my flat-mates left behind. I had books, the apartment to myself, central heating, the white Christmas I’d been longing for since I was a kid, and the company of other stranded exchange students. Overall, things weren’t so bad.

I remember being puzzled by a lot of the slang in BDJ, but in general thinking it was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever read. This was a time when I was mostly into the serious stuff, like the Russians and other classics, and BJD opened a whole new world to me.

As in my Mists of Avalon post, I’m not going to bother with plot, but just focus on what changed since that winter of 2001.

It was hilarious then and it’s still hilarious now, I’m glad to report. Now I’m even able to get some British-inside-jokes I’m sure I missed at the time. For instance, now I can really understand the level of rejection that equates to a rejected British Rail sandwich:

When someone leaves you, apart from missing them, apart from the fact that the whole little world you’ve created together collapses, and that everything you see or do reminds you of them, the worst is the thought that they tried you out and, in the end, the whole sum of parts adds up to you got stamped REJECT by the one you love. How can you not be left with the personal confidence of a passed over British Rail sandwich?

And I hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights:

It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.

On a different note, the whole office flirting with Daniel stinks of sexual harassment. I remember already thinking back then that they were going a bit too far, but this time around I was positively shocked. Was messaging things like “PS. I like your tits in that top” to your employee considered acceptable back in the mid-90s?!

My biggest fear with this re-reading was that I’d start thinking of Bridget as a self-absorbed, small-minded woman, with whom I’d have little in common except the love of ice-cream and Pride and Prejudice. I was pretty annoyed with her for her message-exchange with Daniel, but in general she surprised me. Bridget is a bit self-absorbed, and often dense, but she’s also someone who’s always actively trying to be better, to improve, and I must respect and admire her for it. She does it through the traditional healthy living resolutions, but also has the confidence to quit her job and a bad relationship.

By making her famous list of the men she’ll stay away from (alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic’s, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts), she’s acknowledging her tendency to make wrong choices and, with the help of her honest Diary, change for the best.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I was really surprised by Bridget’s will-power and perseverance, even after historical skew-ups.

It is proved by surveys that happiness does not come from love, wealth or power but the pursuit of attainable goals: and what is a diet if not that?

The corruption of the good by the belief in their own infallible goodnes is the most bloody dangerous pitfall in the human spectrum. Once you have conquered all your sins, pride is the one which will conquer you. A man starts off deciding he is a good man because he makes good decisions. Next thing, he’s convinced that whatever decision he makes must be good because he’s a good man. Most of the wars in the world are caused by people who think they have god on their side. Always stick with people who know they are flawed and ridiculous.

And finally, during this re-reading, just like more than 10 years ago, I got upset about Bridget’s mom Portuguese lover. His name is Julio when in Portuguese its written Júlio, with an accent. Unlike, say, in Spain, it’s not a common Portuguese name, but I would be willing to accept it better if I wasn’t almost 100% sure that in her head, Helen Fielding was pronouncing the “Ju” as “Rru”, the Spanish way, instead of “Ju”, as in “Jubilee”, the Portuguese way. Also, the mom comes back from Portugal bringing castanets and a “straw donkey”. Again, perfect souvenirs, if you’re IN SPAIN.

*sigh*

Still, apart from these little details, I still enjoyed myself and look forward to the re-reading The Edge of Reason, of which I remember almost absolutely nothing.

Look at me, being all good about my New Year Literary Resolutions! We’re only half-way through the year and I’ve already re-read more books than in 2011. I decided to try The Mists of Avalon in audiobook format because it’s narrated by the divine Davina Porter, who in my humble opinion can do no wrong.

I won’t do a full review of the book, but will just record for posterity the major differences between my two reading experiences. I think they says a lot about my 17- and 32-year-old selves.

The biggest change was how I felt towards Morgaine. She’s still awesome, a perfectly fleshed-out character that you really get to know and admire for her courage and self-reliance. But while at 17 I completely identified with her – I wanted to be her – now I often wished she would just lighten up a bit.

Look, I get it, she’s in love with someone who’ll never love her back, and her way of life is dying before her helpless eyes, I see how that makes a person cranky. But at the same time I wish she would, just once in while, let go of the aura of pathos she carries around all the time and laugh like she means it. I think my reaction to Morgaine is part of my growing intolerance of depressing books and movies I mentioned here before.

On the other hand, my feelings towards Guinevere haven’t changed. She’s the same little angry ball of resentment and unhappiness. But despite this, Marion Zimmer Bradley still made me understand her motivations, even when I resisted it and was determined to completely hate the annoying hypocrite.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, July 2011. In The Mists of Avalon, this is where Morgaine is born.

Arthur jumped out of the pages this time. We only follow the story thought the eyes of the female characters, but still get more insight into the mind of Lancelot or Uther than that of Arthur, who’s the story’s whole reason of existence. Still, what we do get to know about him is surprising.

In a book famous for having no black or white characters, Arthur is, amazingly, a Good Man. He’s honorable, faithful, fair, he understands the complex world he lives in and the impossibility to please all, but he still tries. He always seems to see the glass half-full, unlike most of the other characters in the book. But despite all this and the freaky “love-square” with Guinevere, Lancelot and Morgaine, there’s never one person who thinks of him as The One, and that’s terribly sad.

Other things I noticed now and I didn’t before: the patterns, balance and irony. For instance, Morgause and Vivienne want daughters and only have sons, Guinevere longs in vain for an heir to Camelot, Morgaine doesn’t want a child and has one. Guinevere, the greatest catholic Queen, is in love with a pagan. In her later days she envies Morgaine’s knowledge and freedom but is on a quest to destroy the traditions that allow them. The search for the Holy Grail is what speeds the fall of Camelot and its (Christian) ideals. It was Avalon’s tolerance of the early Priests that kick-started their towards the Mists. Everyone loves Arthur, but no one is ever truly in love with him.

This time around I could also appreciate much more the religious discussions. Before I just though of how cool Wicca must be, now I look at the story as a cycle. Just as Avalon supplanted the Old Ones, so did Christianity supplant Avalon and so will something else supplant Christianity.

The general feeling I’ll take from this re-reading is of a story about the rise and fall of Camelot. The Utopian Kingdom is destroyed by intolerance, giving way to the Dark Ages and its impact on knowledge, equality (especially gender equality) and freedom. It’s a much more melancholic story than I remembered. 

Still, I look forward to a re-read in another 15 years – who knows what I’ll discover then?

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Other thoughts: Speculative Book Review, Books for Breakfast Drinks for Dinner, My Two Blessings, Reading with Tequila, Age 30+… A Lifetime of BooksBogormen, Bonnie’s Books (yours?)

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